Bold, creative ideas plot future course

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 27 March, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 27 March, 2012, 12:00am


This year is a landmark for Lotus Tours, as the trend-setting company marks its 55th anniversary with innovations bound to set a new standard in Hong Kong's travel industry.

'You need to be different to make a difference' is the personal business philosophy of the company's deputy chairman and CEO, Patrick Kong, and it powers the group to develop bold and creative ideas, which translate into innovative products redefining personalised quality services.

Among them are a new luxury GeoTraveller Cruise Centre and a dozen tailor-made business-to-business (B-to-B) and business-to-business-to-consumer (B-to-B-to C)websites.

'We are a 'hypermart' of all travel-related products with the best value,' Kong says.

Lotus has focused on wholesale travel business and providing services to corporate clients, including leading Hong Kong-headquartered multinational corporations. The company has never dropped below the top three of Hong Kong's IATA agencies in terms of value of air tickets issued since 1965.

On average, air tickets totalling HK$300 million are issued through Lotus every month, close to one out of every 10 tickets issued in Hong Kong. Lotus has evolved into a Greater China operation, with a combined workforce exceeding 500 at the Hong Kong headquarters and branch offices on the mainland and Taiwan. It is the first Hong Kong agency to receive the official licence for a wholly-Hong Kong-owned travel agency in China. The company has been named Hong Kong's Best Enterprise in the travel industry by CAPITAL Magazine this year.

An engineer by training, Kong built a 30-year track record of successful entrepreneurial projects, including a distributorship for BMW in northern China, before joining Lotus full-time in 2008. Embracing his own philosophy, Kong works at his desk standing up. He received multiple recognitions as a visionary CEO last year, including the Outstanding Entrepreneur Award and Leaders of Excellence accolade.

Likening the operation to a 'socialist business model', Kong says staff work on an equal footing and make major decisions on a consensus basis. 'It is like an inverted management structure without changing the titles. We adopt good ideas contributed by managers, while I have to pitch my ideas to them,' Kong says.

Lotus has harnessed leading-edge IT systems to further upgrade its online platform for the distribution of its large inventory of products, covering the entire spectrum of the travel trade.

Being the first local travel agency to adopt mini-computers to modernise its operation in 1981, Lotus has launched customised corporate travel policy compliance-driven websites for individual corporate clients.

These new online communication channels include specific features tailored to the requirements of individual clients, such as a travel approval process and a system storing special air fares from airlines available in Lotus's Global Distribution System.

Catering for the different needs and aspirations of various market segments, the company will revamp existing websites and launch new ones this year.

The new TravPulse site will help increase productivity of smaller agencies by offering more applications in mid- to back-office operations. From B-to-B, TravPulse will evolve into B-to-B-to-C. Online portals will offer 'dynamic packaging' to retail customers that cover selection of airlines, hotels, and optional prepaid activities. 'We support our agency customers by providing resources to build their sites so that they can sell their services more effectively,' Kong says. 'We innovate on products and are growing the pie so that our agency customers will benefit.'

For leisure travellers, Lotus will unveil multiple sites, each distinguished by the age, travel preferences, aspirations and online purchasing behaviour of the target market segment.

Appealing to affluent, sophisticated and seasoned travellers, Lotus has relaunched its GeoTraveller brand introduced some 20 years ago. Under this group of ultra luxury travel products is the new Cruise Centre. Apart from offering cruise programmes, such as those from Royal Caribbean International, it also features upscale 'boutique' river cruises in Europe.

The Cruise Centre engages its customers with a more personalised experience, with the first contact in a special lounge with spectacular views of the harbour. Service executives provide details of cruises with iPads. In the future, GeoTraveller will launch themed travel experiences for discerning customers with various interests, including spas, expeditions, sports, adventures, wellness, and cultural and heritage, Kong adds.

Lotus is a pioneer in forming outsourced partnerships with airlines around the world which offer their in-house 'free and independent traveller' holidays.

As part of its corporate social responsibility programme, Lotus has established the Extraordinary Tour Educational Foundation. It will work in collaboration with schools and youth organisations to provide wide-ranging educational and career-oriented experiences to students from pre-school to middle school levels.

These activities may include visits to various workplaces, such as Terminal 2 of the Hong Kong International Airport, to give a taste of the settings of different jobs to help determine their career aspirations and goals, Kong says.

Meanwhile, in a partnership with the Direction Association for the Handicapped, Lotus will organise cruises for paraplegic individuals to Asian destinations. 'Lotus aims to provide free travel to the underprivileged who have never set foot outside of Hong Kong.'

Lotus believes its long-term sustainable growth will be driven through collective ownership by its managers. The company is set to implement a management shares ownership programme. Shares will be given to managers from supervisory level up. The managers will take ownership of the company eventually, while shares held by the members of the founding family will be diluted to less than 30 per cent over 30 years. Depending on its business performance, the company will distribute its profits (year-end bonuses) to the managers in the forms of shares or cash.

'The members of the founding family will get neither new shares nor bonuses. Therefore, the proportion of shares held by the managers will grow over the years, whereas that of the founding family members will stay the same,' Kong explains.

He believes this programme will drive the staff at Lotus. As the managers will become the owners, it will be in their interest to ensure the business keeps performing well.

The share price of the company will have a direct impact on their incomes when they are in its employ and until several years after their departure.

As for benefits for customers, when the managers are the owners, employees at junior level will all aspire to be elevated to the management. They have a stake in it to ensure that the customers are well taken care of.

'This is among our unique business principles. Our people are our No 1 asset, because there will be no quality service provided to the customers without driven and innovative employees. Customers will come naturally when service quality is high,' Kong says.